How to Set Up and Use Apple Pencil on Your iPad

How to pair, charge, and use the Apple Pencil

Man designing with Apple pen on an iPad
Apple, Inc.

The Apple Pencil and Apple Pencil 2 demonstrate just how far we've come from the Steve Jobs iPad. Jobs had a well-known disdain for the stylus, declaring that touch-screen devices should be easily operated with fingers. However, the Apple Pencil is no ordinary stylus; it's not really a stylus at all. The pencil-shaped device may look like a stylus, but without a capacitive tip, it's something else altogether. It's a pencil.

Not every iOS device works with the Apple Pencil, and those that do work with one generation and not the other. Confirm your iPad is compatible before you buy using the list in this article.

How Apple Pencil Is Different

The capacitive tip on a stylus interacts with a touch-screen device in the same way that our fingertips register on the screen while our fingernails do not. So, how does the Apple Pencil work with the iPad and iPad Pro? The iPad's screen is designed with sensors that can detect the Apple Pencil, while the pencil itself communicates to the iPad using Bluetooth. This allows the iPad to register how hard the Apple Pencil is pressing and adjust accordingly, allowing apps that support the pencil to draw darker when the pencil is pressed harder against the screen.

The Apple Pencil can also detect when it is held at an angle, allowing the artist to turn a precise line into an eloquent brushstroke without the need to change to a new tool. This feature allows more freedom while working with the Apple Pencil.

How to Pair Your Apple Pencil With Your iPad

The Apple Pencil may be the easiest Bluetooth device to set up on your iPad. You don't need to go check your Bluetooth settings to pair the device. The first-generation Apple Pencil plugs into the iPad via a Lightning Adapter. The second-generation Apple Pencil attaches magnetically to the top of the iPad.

You must have Bluetooth turned on for your iPad. If you don't, a dialog box prompts you to turn it on. Simply tap Turn On, and Bluetooth activates on the iPad or go to Settings > Bluetooth and turn it on.

To pair the Apple Pencil:

  1. Turn on the iPad and unlock it.

  2. Uncap the first-generation Apple Pencil and plug it in to the iPad or position the second-generation Apple Pencil on the wide side of the iPad Pro with the magnetic strip—you'll feel it snap to the iPad.

  3. Tap Pair or Connect depending on your Apple Pencil generation in the pop-up screen.

    Apple Pencil pairing screen on iPad

The Apple Pencil is ready to use.

Where Do You Use the Apple Pencil?

The Pencil is primarily a drawing or writing tool, although you can use it anywhere you use your finger on the iPad. If you want to take it for a test run, fire up the Notes app, go into a new note, and tap the icon that looks like a pencil tip in the lower right corner of the screen. This puts you in drawing mode in Notes. Then, make a selection from the tools at the bottom of the screen and start experimenting.

Notes app showing drawing tools

Although Notes is a handy app, you may want to upgrade to a more sophisticated drawing app. Paper, Autodesk Sketchbook, Penultimate, and Adobe Photoshop Sketch are four great apps for the iPad. They are also free for the base app, so you can take them for a test drive.

How to Check the Apple Pencil Battery

Apple says users can expect to get about 12 hours of charge on Apple Pencils. Since the Apple Pencil doesn't have a light to show its charge, you can check it in Settings or, in the case of the second-generation Apple Pencil, on the screen, or via a widget.

Go to Settings > Apple Pencil to check the charge on your second-generation pencil while it is attached magnetically. The charge shows at the top of the screen.

Apple Pencil settings screen

Also, when you attach the pencil to the magnetic strip, it briefly displays the current charge level on the screen.

Apple Pencil displaying charge level on home screen of iPad

You can keep track of the charge on both generations of Apple Pencils through the iPad's Batteries widget. The widgets appear at the left side of the Home screen. If you don't see the Batteries widget, scroll to the bottom of the visible widgets and click Edit. Add the Battery widget from the list and pin it near the top. Then, you can see the battery charge of the Apple Pencil at a glance.

Widgets on the iPad Home screen

If you need to charge the first-generation Apple Pencil, insert it into the same Lightning port at the bottom of the iPad you used to pair the device, or attach the magnetic second-generation Apple Pencil.

It takes about 15 seconds of charging to give you 30 minutes of battery power, so even if you are low on battery, it doesn't take long to get going again.

If the Pencil isn't working properly, various methods can be used to try and fix it.

Apple Pencil Compatibility

The first-generation Apple Pencil works with the following iOS devices:

  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad mini (5th generation)
  • iPad (6th and 7th generations)
  • iPad Pro 12.9 inch (1st and 2nd generations)
  • iPad Pro 10.5 inch
  • iPad Pro 9.7 inch

The second-generation Apple Pencil works with:

  • iPad Pro 12.9 inch (3rd generation)
  • iPad Pro 11-inch